You don't need The Home Run hitter...but having one helps.
When you're playing the video game version, it's easy to create a jauggernaut of a lineup, filling every position with speed, defense, plate discipline, power, range, arm strength and 99 mph fastballs. In reality a good lineup is about balance. There aren't many players around who have all the tools at their disposal, and they certainly aren't going to all be playing on the same team.
So where does power fit into the equation? A base hit will win a game just as well as the long ball...but Stuart Scott isn't yelling "BOO-yah" about Craig Counsel's line drive to right field.
There are any number of things you could say about The Home Run. It's over-rated. It's awe-inspiring. It's tarnished. It's exhilarating. It's taken over the game. Whatever you want to say about it, it's there. Right in the middle of the batting order. Shadowing Gary Sheffield's angry bat. Glowing in Ken Griffey Jr.'s swing.
What divides the issue of power is that there are different forms. You have gap-power, you have The Home Run, you have speed and baserunning ability, and you have slugging percentage to balance them all out. Minnesota needs all of these in spades, and while upgrades have been made...is it enough to keep the offense threatening? No, you don't need power to win ballgames...but it helps.
2005 SLG Leaders
Player 2006 SLG
Torii Hunter .452
Matt LeCroy .444
Jacque Jones .438
Justin Morneau .437
Michael Cuddyer .422
Joe Mauer .411
Those numbers aren't scaring anybody. Sure, if the peripheral numbers were better, maybe the player could have...but the peripheral numbers weren't better. One everyday player with an OBP better than .350. Nobody with an OPS over .800. One player with 30 doubles.
In 2006, the Twins are gambling on a number of things to regain an offensive edge. These things aren't necessarily high-probability gambles, either: improvement of younger players, returning to form of veterans, the hope that Batista hits 25 from the 7-hole.
2006 Lineup, SLG by last MLB season
The American League Central Division is no longer the little brother of the rest of the league. We have our own teams, competetive teams, with sluggers and hurlers to match any of the other divisions in the game. Minnesota was a catalyst in jolting the rest of the division from mediocrity: Chicago re-thought their philosophy, Cleveland's young crop have emerged and Detroit is showing promise for a future in a city long slumbering through the baseball season.
Now the Twins are on the edge. For the first time in 5 years, they're the overwhelming underdog...due primarily to an ineffective lineup.
Where does Minnesota find the balance they need from one through nine in order to pose a threat? Rondell White isn't a true slugger, but he's definately an upgrade with the bat. Luis Castillo isn't a slugger, but he's one of the best in the game at getting on base. Justin Morneau hit 22 home runs in 2005 but still disappointed with a miserable OBP and even worse plate discipline...but there's promise there. Torii Hunter led the team in slugging, and before getting hurt was on pace to reach the 20-homer plateau for what would have been the 5th consecutive season. Joe Mauer isn't a slugger...yet. But the gap power is there, as is the ability to get on base.
Pitchers and catchers are reporting for duty in less than a month, and opening day is less than 3 months in coming. I don't believe anyone will break the 30-homer curse in Minnesota this year, I don't think we'll find the power that people are willing to sell their souls for...but we have the peripherals. We have better on-base players, we have young players returning with another year under their belts, we have a number of players that will be able to throw doubles up in spades.
For one more year in Twins Territory, we haven't answered the question of the power hitter or The Home Run...but the offense is better. When you think about it, that should have always been the answer in the first place. We just weren't asking the right question.